back to commentary one

such an appropriate collage

Crux Versions


foržon nu min hyge hweorfeš ofer hrežerlocan
min modsefa mid mereflode
ofer hwęles ežel hweorfeš wide
eoržan sceatas
                                cymeš eft to me
gifre and grędig gielleš anfloga
hweteš onwęl weg hrežer unwearnum
ofer holma gelagu

Reckless of that, my thought is thrown
beyond my heart's cage now. My mind is cast
upon the sea swell, over the whale's world
widely to course creation
                  then comes a keening call:
Anon the raptor wails on wing
that steels the naked soul to start
upon the death way where the whale sways

Even now my heart
Journeys beyond its confines, and my thoughts
Over the sea, across the whale's domain,
Travel afar the regions of the earth
And then come back to me with greed and longing.
The cuckoo cries, incites the eager breast
On to the whale's roads irresistibly
Over the expanses of the sea,

For this reason my mind now moves
Beyond the locker of my breast,
My imagination with the sea's flood,
Over the whale's domain moves far and wide,
Over earth's surfaces, comes back to me
Voracious and greedy, the lone flier yells,
Augurs the breast to the whale's path relentlessly,
Across the waters of oceans:

Indeed now my spirit takes flight
beyond my bound breast,
my heart flies wide with the sea stream,
over the whale's realm,
the surfaces of the earth; comes again to me
ravenous and greedy; the solitary flier calls out,
incites irresistibly the heart onto the whale-way,
over the waters of the sea.

And yet even now my heart rebels
Against its breast-locks,
My spirit roams about amid the sea-flood
Greedy and ungratified; the lone-flier cries out,
Irresistibly whetting the heart to the way of the whale
Over the stretch of seas.

And now my spirit twists out of my breast,
my spirit out in the waterways,
over the whale's path it soars widely
through all the corners of the world
it comes back to me eager and unsated;
the lone-flier screams, urges onto the whale-road
the unresisting heart across the waves of the sea.

Therefore now my thought moves beyond the
confines of my heart, my spirit is with the sea,
it widely ranges over the whale's country,
over the earth's surface; it comes back to me
eager and greedy, the lone-flier cries
and irresistibly arouses my heart to the whale-way,
over the sea's extent.

And yet, my heart moves out of my breast
my inner heart with the stream of the sea
over the whale's home I go wide,
over the surfaces of the earth often comes to me
voracious and greedy, the lonely bird cries,
sharpens the heart on the sea (whale's way)
to the flood of the sea (lake).

Wherefore now my spirit journeys out over heart-coffer.
My mind-heart amidst the sea-flood
Over the whale's country wanders wide,
The earth's expanses, comes back to me
Avid and greedy; the lone-flyer cries,
Whets on the whale-way the heart irresistibly,
Over the gatherings of the waters,

And now my heart twists out from my breast,
my spirit out in the sea-flood,
over the whale's path it soars wide
to the corners of the world ---
it comes back to me greedy and longing;
the sole(soul)-flier screams,
urges onto the whale-way
the unresisting heart across the waves of the sea

Therefore now my mind departs
outside its thought-locks,
my heart's interior, with the ocean's tide,
across the whale's homeland, departing broadly,
the corners of the earth --- it comes again to me
gluttonous and greedy --- the lone-wing keens,
whetting the heart suddenly on the whale's way,
across surface of the waters.

My heart is restless within me,
my mind is dwelling on the sea-flood,
over the whale's domain.
My mind fares widely over the face of the earth,
but returns unsatisfied.
The lone-flier screams, urging my heart
to the whale-way over the stretch of seas.

Why do translators E and K substitute "unsated" and "unsatisfied" for grędig, which means "greedy" ? "Unsated" does not mean "greedy". Is it because they cannot accept that anfloga means "attacking flyer", or valkyrie, and therefore try an adjective suited to a "lone-flying soul" ? Unfortunately, anfloga simply does not mean "one-flyer".

And so now my thought flies out from my breast,
my spirit across the sea-flood
flies out widely over the whale's home,
to the corners of the earth, and comes back to me
greedy and hungry; the lone flier cries out,
incites my heart ceaselessly to the whale's path
over the open sea

Translator L is concerned to stress that the anfloga is the poet's own soul, or mind; a lone flier. He translates hweorfeš as "flies", twice. But hweorfeš does not mean "flies", it means "is thrown" or "cast". Still today we say "cast" your mind back, or even "cast" it forward. The translation is distorted in order to favour the translator's preconception. Whence comes "ceaselessly" ?

For now my heart writhes       Out of my breast,
My mind's gone       Mid mere-flood,
Over the whale's path,       Widely wandering
All earth's corners.       Comes oft to me
Greedy and eager,       Lone-flyer screeching
Whets for the whale-road       The heart unwearied,
Over the sea's hold.      

Translator M separates out the half-lines; hence the capitals starting each half-line. It was too awkward to accommodate this layout, though an apology is in order. An imaginatively homophonic version. Hyge does not mean heart, nor hweorfeš writhes, nor unwearnum unwearied, nor ofer over, nor eft oft. The poem's truth is ignored. A Pound fan.

The cuckoo (lone flier) cries, incites the eager breast
On to the whale's roads irresistably,
Over the wide expanses of the sea,
Because the joys of God mean more to me
Than this dead transitory life on land.

This translator has only addressed lines 62-66a, but that is sufficient to include the misinterpretations of anfloga, unwearnum and onwęl weg. "Irresistably" is not a spelling which features in my Cassell's Concise. Can it be found in some other dictionary ? OED ? "Cuckoo" is cuckoo.

And so my thought goes beyond my breast
my heart with the sea flood
goes widely over the domain of the whale,
over the expanse of the earth, comes to me again
ravenous and greedy; the lone flyer cries out,
incites the heart irresistibly on the whale way,
over the expanse of seas.

The O translator starts reasonably well, (though hweorfeš hardly means "goes"), but then slides back into the conventional misreadings of the Anglo-Saxon. As ever, sceatas does not mean "expanse"; eft does not mean "again"; anfloga, hweteš, onwęl weg, and unwearnum do not mean "lone flyer", "incites", "whale way", or "irresistibly".

For now my thoughts escape my heart's enclosure
and my mind surges with the flood tide
over the whale's world
it soars above the earth's broad realm
and comes back to me ravenous and greedy
The lone flyer cries out
across the span of the seas
and calls the unresisting soul to the whale's path

These translations sound more and more familiar, and the P translation translates some of the others. "For now" is preceded by translation M; and "ravenous and greedy" sounds similar to translation O, as does "the lone flyer cries out". "Span of the seas" is a variation on "expanse of seas". As ever, sceatas does not mean "earth's broad realm". Unwearnum here becomes the adjective "unresisting": see E. Wrong, but not quite as wrong as "irresistibly".

Q = A repeated
                            Even now my heart
Journeys beyond its confines, and my thoughts
Over the sea, across the whale's domain,
Travel afar the regions of the earth
And then come back to me with greed and longing
The cuckoo cries, incites the eager breast
On to the whale's roads irresistibly,
Over the wide expanses of the sea,

And thick and fast they come at last; and more and more and more. I wonder if any of them will finally attempt to translate what the original poet actually said ? Presumably not, since, like Ezra, they have little genuine understanding of the Anglo-Saxon language, and merely turn to earlier renderings, all faulty. Q wants the "lone flyer" to be the "cuckoo", "inciting", "irresistibly". But it's only the grim reaper that is greedy for the defenceless soul.

So my thoughts sail out of my unstill mind,
My heart heaves from my breast-hoard
Seeking the sea --- my spirit soars
Over the whale's home, twists and turns
Over the earth's surfaces, rolls and returns,
Greedy and ravenous. The solitary flier screams
Rousing the quickened heart on the whale-road
Over the stretch of sea.

A fairly recently published version. It has commendably got rid of "irresistibly", but sticks with "solitary flier". Amazing to think that Smithers recognized anfloga meant a valkyrie, or similar, in 1959. Otherwise, this does not really attempt what one would call a close, or accurate translation. As ever, sceatas are not "surfaces". How could a "spirit" be both greedy and ravenous ? And onwęl weg means "on the death way", damp, dusty or shrouded.

So my thought wanders over my heart treasures,
my inner spirit goes over the sea-flood,
over the whale's home, wanders away
on the earth's face. It comes back to me
hungry and greedy; the lone flier cries,
urges unceasing the heart to roam
on the whale-way of the wide waters,
the broad streams.

Yet another version which makes hardly the slightest attempt to bring a genuine understanding to the Anglo-Saxon original, but merely says what has been already (wrongly) said over many years, using slightly different, and sometimes eccentric, words. It remains amazing to think that Smithers recognized anfloga meant a valkyrie, or similar, in 1959. A correct reading of the word unwearnum completely transforms one's understanding of the poem.

Thus now my hyge roams beyond my breast-chamber,
my modsefa wanders widely with the waters
over the whale's home, over the earth's expanse,
and comes back to me ravenous and greedy;
the lone flyer calls out,
urges the breast irresistibly onto the whale's way,
over the ocean's expanse.

An understanding that hyge means exactly the same as the modern Swedish word håg (ie in this instance, "inclination" or "desire") makes it impossible to envisage it leaving its breast-chamber. For modsefa see below. It can't be ravenous or greedy. "Lone flyer" is wrong; "breast" wrong; "urges", wrong; "irresistibly" wrong; "whale's way" wrong. Anglo-Saxon is not Old English, it's Old Scandinavian.

Any other impending version.

Anglo-Saxon is not Old English, it's Old Scandinavian.

"Translation accuracy is measured by the degree to which its users get the same meaning as the original text." Wayne Leman.

If the facts don't fit the theory, change the facts.

Names are judiciously withheld from these twenty confused interpretations, all bar one (1997) believed to be post-2000. They have each other in common. They fail to examine the actual Anglo-Saxon words, to penetrate their true meaning; and tend to look at what someone else has already said. Then they vary their texts to a greater or lesser sloppy degree. They show virtually no interest in understanding, let alone reproducing or translating, what the original poet actually said.

Anyone even slightly interested in discovering the true origins of the English language is earnestly entreated to consult A Short Comparison of Place-Names in England and Sweden, 2015, by David J.Burns. This masterful study is possibly obtainable from The Better Book Company, 5 Lime Close, Chichester PO19 5HY.

A sentence from page 12: "The more I checked with the experts' writings ..... the more I realised how they are in thrall to inherited rule-sets and how confusing the terminology is; in true academic tradition perhaps, lest the uninitiated begin to understand."

Some words

hyge. The Anglo-Saxon word hyge is identical in meaning with the Modern Swedish word håg. It does not mean "heart". The word also connotes strong feelings of "desire" or "yearning", the equivalent of the Sehnsucht of German Romanticism.

The word sefa [click] means "sense", "mind", or "spirit". It stems from the Proto-Indo-European root word sap- which means to test, to taste, and to search out. It is the same root from which we chose our name, homo sapiens. Think "state of mind".

unwearnum does not mean "irresistibly", or "relentlessly"; though "unresisting" is a slight improvement on those two. The concept of man's vulnerable defencelessness at the approach of death derives, in the most immediate instance, from:
Ecclesiastes 5:15. "Naked shall he return to go as he came, and shall take nothing from his labour, which he may carry away in his hand. mažmum mislicum žęt hine mid nille (wille ?)
Job 1:21. "Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord. See also 1 Timothy, 6:7.

Why not see what St Columba (if it is he) has to say in his "Letter to Hunald".

sceatas means "womb" or "lap" and/or (therefore) "grave or tomb", to which man must eventually return. The Swedish word is sköte; the German word is Schoss. It does not mean "regions", "surfaces", "expanse"; although more conceivably "corners".

eft does not mean "again". It is cognate with Swedish efter, and means "afterwards" or "then". Its surviving descendant in English is "eftsoons", and its closest existing equivalent is "anon", meaning "soon after".

hweteš means "whets". It does not mean "augurs" (?), "incites", "urges", "arouses", but it could mean "sharpens". A "steel", noun, is a "rod with roughened surfaces for sharpening knives"; "to steel", verb, is "to harden, toughen (the heart, courage, resolution, etc)" in a person.

The closest equivalent and descendant of hrežer is probably "wraith".

onwęl weg means "on the death way". It is not impossible that an ambiguity is intended, as the whale is an animal apt to drag an Anglo-Saxon sailor down to his death. The reading offered attempts a combination of both meanings.

ofer holma gelagu means "beyond the spread of the skerries", but it has been difficult to find a suitable equivalent for the verse. ofer tends to mean "beyond", but its meaning may shade into "over". "My bonnie lies over the ocean"; ie beyond the ocean, not above it. holma cannot really mean "sea".

unwearn. Since Leo gives "der sich nicht hütet" for the adjective unwearn, it seems like a good idea to translate what the German means. "Sich hüten" means "be on one's guard". "Watch, guard, defend, preserve"; ie unwearnum means being in a state of none of these. In effect, defenceless, or naked.

Discussion of whether anfloga means the cuckoo, or the seafarer's own imagination, is absurd.
Neither the cuckoo nor the imagination can be described as "yelling, eagerly and greedily".
Or "longingly, voraciously, ravenously, avidly, or as ungratified, unsatisfied, unsated, gluttonous".

The anfloga makes what a genuine germanista would call its Angriff, or onslaught.
What anfloga does NOT mean is "one-flier"
suddenly and irresistibly all the words fall into place

A streak of blue-green
Is all that is seen
Of the kingfisher's flight
As he drops from the height
Of a waterside tree
When he happens to see
A fish unwary.

[premonition in 1953]


the blind lead the blind: the noun wearn means "defence": unwearn means "defenceless".
The Swedish word is "värnlös".

click for more on this matter
Translation of unwearn: Heinrich Leo, Angelsächsisches Glossar, 1872, columns 15, 16

Another note, November 2016

And thick and fast, they come at last; and more and more and more. Several new "translations" have been noted on the web since compiling the above nineteen samples. Actually, to dignify these effusions with the name of translation is a travesty. They are, rather, variegated versions of a relatively recent, spurious, verse composition which signally fails to represent what the original author was saying. A new and different composite poem has evolved over the years since Thorpe's first misguided effort. Below is a paragraph from my Studia Neophilologica paper of 1996.

"A" is the same as the letter "A"
Ludwig Wittgenstein

commentaries: one, two, three [more than 60 other versions], four, five, six
annotation       essays & papers       main general index
Anfloga BC1          Anfloga BC2
improbably st columba
crux: thorpe & grein
back to anfloga
site text
Seafarer Fidelity

© Charles Harrison-Wallace 2016